I was in Tennessee yesterday, scene of this year's most racially-charged Senate race. I got the holiday gluttony off to a roaring start with a stop at Interstate Barbecue in Memphis. It was my first time, and I now mourn all those lost years. If you ever get the chance, it's a must-stop. You can't go wrong with the pork ribs.
The family that runs the joint has a little girl, the same age as my daughter, who was helping out for the holiday. They hit it off, and I sat back and watched as two five-year-olds--one white, one black--sat side-by-side in their own booth coloring in their coloring books, casting sidelong glances at the each other's work and clearly basking in each other's presence. Above them on the wall was a photo of Rep. Harold Ford, Jr.
I was struck as I looked around at the restaurant's patrons--half black, half white--that this is Memphis. This is the South. So when someone like Bob Corker comes along and runs a race-baiting campaign against a black man like Harold Ford, dredging up old prejudices and old fears, and wins, I am angry and disappointed, but I don't despair the way I used to.
People like Senator-elect Corker can still harken to an earlier era, but that kind of appeal more and more requires a willful ignorance of the reality that is all around you now in the South, the reality of two little girls, one with black kinky hair, the other with board-straight brown hair, hunched together over coloring books in a restaurant frequented by blacks and whites. It is what the South has been for a long time now. It has happened gradually (never fast enough) and sometimes almost imperceptibly. But the changes have come.